By Alexander Leach
I just got done playing Dark Souls 2 for review on CGMagazine. Should be in the print publication, as well as on their website. As you can tell, I really enjoyed it.
Full disclosure, though. I played a Sorcerer.
Normally, I wouldn’t think this would be a problem. I play magical classes in every single game, out of personal preference for the intellectual or spiritual figure who can manifest those qualities directly with energy blasts or other direct manipulations of reality. Dark Souls magic are thematically cool; the soul-energy of sorcery, the primal flames of pyromancy, the divine lightning of miracles, and the inviting, dark power of hexes are all well-represented and distinct, particularly in Dark Souls 2. With the effort they put into them, its somewhat troubling that people are dismissive of them.
Sorcery seems to have a series of detractors in Dark Souls 2, claiming that sorcery is for ‘babies’ and that magic is overpowered, negating the game’s famous difficulty. This isn’t new; the same attitudes arose in the first Dark Souls, as well. In the original, they had a point – magic made many of the bosses laughably easy, including the final boss. In the second game, however, I don’t believe that this is as much of a case.
Firstly, yes, it can make certain encounters easier, but it’s part of the game’s design to vary encounters to require a variety of skills. Ranged combat lets you combat some enemies that are either tremendously dangerous, or attack you with ranged abilities, but it doesn’t necessarily allow you to no-sell every foe. Enemies in Dark Souls 2 are significantly faster than in the previous game, and generally move in groups, making individual shot spells less viable to shoot them down. Sorcery also appears less likely to one-shot enemies, a feature that requires further expenditure of resources, or the use of melee. If you’re a sorcery build, you’re going to want to save your magic for the bosses, and even with high attunement and intelligence you’ll probably lose lots of spells. Consumables are finite, and it’s not particularly prudent to use them every time, compared to actually practising melee and using it for smaller encounters.
Secondly, Dark Souls 2 has significantly higher requirements for even basic weapons than the previous games, and starts the sorcerer class out with much lower strength and dexterity. The result makes all shields unusable, and low vitality means heavy armour not only slows you down, but doesn’t provide a significant survivability. You’re still going to be dying in a few hits, making you rely on dodging. Unless you up your adaptability high, you’ll probably require more care in your rolls as well, due to drastically reduced invincibility frames.
Thirdly, casting magic now requires the use of stamina, like any other attack. I think this is a great idea, because it eliminates one of the most broken elements of the first game. Stamina’s utility in blocking and dodging means that sorcerers in the first Dark Souls could easily dodge anyone who arrives, and cast spells. You have to balance your spell usage if you want to defend against attacks, and be able to roll away, leaving you vulnerable without proper management. Since a lot of melee combat becomes hit-and-run for that reason, and you often have less stamina to burn as a mage, care is needed in most fights to avoid death.
Lastly, bosses. While magic gives you an edge on quite a few normal enemies, it’s not nearly as effective against bosses as it was in the previous games, in the majority of cases. Without the aid of other players, you’re often scrambling to avoid attacks and whittle down the boss, even with incredibly high magic damage. It’s more balanced and functions better as a support role, and keeps the challenge in the fight. When I grouped up with tower shield-toting tanks, I noticed them taking barely any damage while standing within melee range, rolling about; they didn’t seem to be having much trouble, though they weren’t doing quite as much damage. It felt like a team effort; it felt like magic was useful, but not critical. I don’t particularly mind this structure – it means you have to balance spells to fight up to the boss, but save enough to actually make use of them. In the late game, I made more use of melee than magic and attuned limited-use, stronger spells like Affinity (the hex version of Homing Soulmass) Soul Greatsword, and Flame Swathe.
That all being said, my second playthrough will be a nonmagical build, probably high dexterity. I’ll decide when I think about it; the game is so long that I’ll be spending a goodly amount of time with it.